Commentary: Health literacy is important

  • Published
  • By TRICARE Staff
Health literacy means how well you understand your basic health information and services available to you. According to, nearly nine out of 10 adults may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease.

First, you should know or have a copy of your health history, prior hospitalizations and a list of current and past medical problems. Think of your health as a story that needs to be told. In order to accurately know what’s going on, your doctor needs every chapter.  They also need to know if you’re having new problems or never received relief from prior symptoms. This is especially important if you are seeing several doctors at the same time or meeting a new one.

Keep in mind most of your health history is captured in records. While many agencies have moved to file sharing or electronic file transfers, make sure you have the latest copies of your test results, X-rays, labs or any other work you’ve had done. In some instances, you may have to make the copies and bring them to the doctor yourself.

Next, be sure to have a list of all your current medications including prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and herbal supplements, as well as the dosage. If you’re concerned about missing something, just throw everything in a bag and bring it with you. This will be a good exercise for you to see if there is any outdated medication that need to be thrown out or if you are taking multiple medications that treat the same symptom.

While compiling records and gathering medication make a written list of the top three to five issues you want to discuss with your doctor. Having a list may help you stay on track and ensure you address the most pressing concerns first, including a detailed list of symptoms. Preparing a list of items to discuss also helps you feel more confident in talking to your doctor. Be direct, honest and as specific as possible when describing your symptoms or expressing your concerns. If you would like to but can’t, bring along a family member or friend to your appointment so they can help you ask questions, listen to what the doctor is telling you, or just offer support.

Lastly, it is important to know your health care benefit. Do you know what your insurance covers, and your copays or cost-shares? Do you know where to find this information if you have a question? Knowing details about your health care benefit helps when it’s time to make decisions about choosing a provider or specialist, getting important tests, and when planning preventive care. For more information about your TRICARE health plan, visit